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Facebook exec ‘sorry’ for blocking emergency pages in news ban

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Facebook exec 'sorry' for blocking emergency pages in news ban

A top Facebook executive issued an apology Friday following its vindictive news ban in Australia for accidentally scrubbing some government and emergency services pages in the process.

“This is a really hard thing to do. We’ve never done it before,” said Simon Milner, the vice president of public policy for the Asia-Pacific region, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. “We are sorry for the mistakes we made in some of the implementation.”

But Milner failed to apologize for Facebook retaliating against a proposed law that will make it and Google pay media outlets for the news content that gets shared on their sites.

The unilateral decision on Thursday left some 17 million Facebook users down under without news from places including the Sydney Morning Herald, the New York Post and The Australian. But it also mistakenly removed government and charity pages, as well as those for Suicide Prevention Australia and domestic violence services.

Facebook said it was working to restore some of those pages — though Milner suggested the fix wasn’t an easy one.

“There’s still some pages that we’re looking at but some of it’s really difficult in that the law isn’t clear and therefore there may be some pages that were clearly not news but actually under the law they might be,” he said. “That’s one of the challenges for us. We’re sorry for the mistakes that we made on that front.”

The mega-popular social media site typically uses real people to determine what is and isn’t news content — but to issue the ban, the company relied on machine learning and artificial intelligence, which mistakenly removed the swath of pages, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Facebook staged the revolt after the House of Representatives passed the News Media Bargaining Code, which would force Facebook and Google to negotiate with media companies that produce the content that’s shared on their platforms.

The bill, which is headed to the Senate, is expected to pass sometime next week.

Facebook has been vehemently opposed to the proposed law, saying it “ignores the realities” of its relationship with publishers that use its service to “share news content” — a belief on which Milner doubled down.

“The scales are tipped too heavily in favor of publishers in what should be a framework that enables commercial relationships,” he said.

In a blog post Wednesday, Facebook claimed that “the business gain from news is minimal,” saying news makes up “less than 4 percent” of content on users’ newsfeeds.

Milner added that in the meantime, the ball is in the Australian parliament’s court.

“We’re in the hands of the government,” he said. “If the law continues to make it unviable for us to have news on Facebook, there’s no basis on which we can change this. If the law were to change, then that creates opportunities for us to feel confident about being able to have news on the service without being unfairly penalized by this law.”

Meanwhile, Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Friday said he had had a 30-minute chat with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as the pair work to find a solution that suits both sides, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Frydenberg said they agreed to speak again over the weekend.

The treasurer has previously said that Google accounts for 53 percent of Australian online advertising revenue and Facebook 23 percent.

With Post wires

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Penn State to replace ‘sexist and classist’ words like freshman

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Penn State to replace 'sexist and classist' words like freshman

Pigskin powerhouse Penn State has jumped on the woke wagon.

The sprawling public university will replace pronouns such as he/him/hers with they/them/theirs; replace traditional student designations such as freshman and sophomore with “first year” and “second year” and; replace “underclassmen” and “upperclassmen” with “lower division” and “upper division,” according to Penn State News.

The Preferred Name and Gender Identity Policy was passed by Pennsylvania State University’s Senate Committee on Curricular Affairs on April 27.

“Terms such as ‘freshmen’ are decidedly male-specific, while terms such as ‘upperclassmen’ can be interpreted as both sexist and classist. Terms such as ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ are parallel to western male father-son naming conventions, and much of our written documentation uses he/she pronouns,” states the resolution. 

“It is time to close the loop and ensure that all people are not only able to choose their name & gender identity within our systems, but that these documents and systems are also structured to be inclusive from the start.”

The decision was mocked by some people on social media.

“I am at my wit’s end with all of this stupidity,” said one Penn State parent on Twitter.

Asked Bill Bressier on Twitter, referencing the school’s sports teams’ nickname: “How long is that until the ‘Nittany Lion,’ which is a male term, is replaced by the gender neutral, correct subspecies ‘Eastern Cougar?’”

Penn State will also no longer use the phrase “super senior” to denote those students whose studies last beyond the traditional four years. They will instead be called fifth-year (or beyond) students.

The term super seniors “does often carry a slightly negative connotation,” the resolution noted.

Penn State announced in 2018 that it was dropping the titles homecoming “king” and “queen.”

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New book reveals how to win friends and influence post-COVID

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New book reveals how to win friends and influence post-COVID

Prior to the pandemic, Jon Levy was best known as the founder of the Influencers Dinner, a regular roving dinner party of A-listers — strangers to each other — pulled from different industries. The location would be revealed shortly before the event, and there were a few ground rules: Everyone would cook dinner together, and no one could reveal their last name or where they worked. 

It was all very mysterious. 

“There would always be this moment where people arrive for the cocktail hour,” says Levy, a behavioral scientist and author of the new book, “You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence.” “And they invariably say, ‘Do you mind if I call my wife? I just want to tell her I still have my kidneys.’ ” Past guests have included Nobel laureates, Olympic athletes, executives, scientists, and the Grammy-winning voice of the bark from “Who Let the Dogs Out.” 

This past year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to their Zoom squares to socialize digitally, Levy realized that virtual events can be rewarding — they just have to be planned differently. 

“When TV came out, the answer to programming wasn’t to have people reading soap operas. The new platform created a new way to engage, and that’s the same with digital,” he explains. “When we design our events, we design the experiences to focus on you, the individual, so you feel you’re connecting with people. We start off by putting people in breakout rooms to meet each other. The key is not to leave people to interview each other. Humans do best when there’s a shared effort or activity. If I give you a puzzle to figure out or an icebreaker game, that’s really important. These games cause a shared investment of effort. Now you’re a team.” 

Levy’s work as a behavioral scientist focuses on influence and human connection, never more important than in the current times. 

“I really value bringing people together. And when you look at the research, people are getting lonelier and more isolated,” says Levy. “I’m all for people earning more money and having nice things, but it just doesn’t carry the day. And [by writing this], I was hoping that if I worked hard enough, we can begin to shift the cultural conversation about what gives people a higher quality of life.” 

Check out jonlevytlb.com/games for several different examples of activities to be played at virtual events. 

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Body of missing KPMG executive Alan White found in Texas

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Body of missing KPMG executive Alan White found in Texas

The body of a Dallas businessman who has been missing since October was found in a wooded area of the Texas city.

A survey crew working for Paul Quinn College found human remains near the campus Thursday, police said.

The Dallas County Medical Examiner identified the remains as Alan White, an executive at accounting firm KPMG who was last seen gassing up his Porsche after a gym visit on Oct. 22.

The 55-year-old’s vehicle was found about a week later, and there were no signs of a struggle or accident.

“Your mind goes through all these scenarios of what could’ve happened,” White’s husband Rusty Jenkins said at the time. “But it’s all just kind of guesses until we get some facts or some leads. But your mind plays games all day of what did happen, what could’ve happened.”

There is a $10,000 reward for information related to the case.

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